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Middle East correspondent Frank Gardner in Cairo
 real 28k

Sunday, 6 February, 2000, 19:39 GMT
No peace crisis says Israel

David LEvy David Levy, Israel's Foreign Minister: "No crisis"


Israel is playing down Palestinian accusations that they were wasting their time in Middle East peace talks.

Speaking before entering discussions over the return of Palestian refugees, Foreign Minister David Levy said: "There is no crisis."

He was responding to comments made by Yasser Arafat who was quoted as saying the latest Israeli-Palestinian negotiations were "absurd".

The Palestinian leader met Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak in Cairo for consultations on the peace process.

Truthfulness

A spokesman said after the Sunday morning meeting: "There have been a lot of question marks during the meeting concerning the extent of Israel's truthfulness regarding the peace process with Palestinians."

Mr Levy, who is meeting ministers from Egypt, Palestine and Jordan later on Sunday to discuss the plight of hundreds of thousands of Palestinians displaced by the 1967 Arab-Israeli war, said he would not rule out trying to end the deadlock.



The situation is dangerous because despite the efforts of the United States the crisis is continuing
Yasser Arafat spokesman

He said: "We will be there and see."

The talks are one of the most contentious issues in the Middle East peace process and had been suspended since 1996.

Egypt's Foreign Minister, Amr Moussa, said on Saturday that Egypt, Jordan and the Palestinians would take what he called a unified stand before Israel at the talks.


Dennis Ross American Middle East Envoy Dennis Ross

The meeting is part of the efforts to formulate a final settlement in the Middle East peace process.

It comes as Israeli-Jordanian talks begin in Amman, and a day after Palestinians and Israelis presented their differences over further Israeli withdrawals from occupied lands, to the American Middle East envoy Dennis Ross.

Palestinian leader Yasser Arafat has asked for international help in his dealings with Israel, saying the peace talks have hit an unprecedented crisis.

Dangerous situation

A spokesman for Mr Arafat said: "The situation is dangerous because despite the efforts of the United States the crisis is continuing."

Mr Ross held talks with Israeli and Palestinian negotiators Oded Eran and Saeb Erakat to try to overcome an impasse over a withdrawal from 6.1% of the West Bank.

Last week, Israel said it would hand over the land by 10 February, three weeks later than the 20 January deadline laid down in the Sharm el-Sheikh agreement signed last September.

Withdrawal

But Palestinians are furious Israel failed to consult them over the maps detailing the withdrawal, which did not include populated land around Jerusalem.

Now another thorny issue - the return of hundreds of thousands of Palestinians displaced by the 1967 Arab-Israeli war - is being discussed between Egypt, Israel, Jordan and the Palestinians.

Slow progress

There are more than 350,000 Palestinian refugees.

Under the terms of the 1993 Oslo peace accords, Israel is committed to discussing the future of those Palestinians displaced in 1967.


Yasser Yasser Arafat: "Unprecedented crisis"

The BBC's Middle East correspondent, Frank Gardner, says even for those displaced in 1967, no quick results are expected from Sunday's meeting.

The Egyptian newspaper, Al-Ahram, says a final communique will likely pave the way for future meetings of a committee of experts to discuss the issue further.

But with Palestinian and Israeli peace negotiators making slow progress in their talks, our correspondent says this four-nation forum in Cairo could provide a ray of hope.

Both Israelis and Arabs have long looked to Egypt's President Mubarak to help them break deadlock talks.

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See also:
06 Feb 00 |  Middle East
Ray of hope for Palestinian refugees
05 Feb 00 |  Middle East
US intervenes in West Bank dispute
24 Jan 00 |  Middle East
Final status schedule slipping
18 Jan 00 |  Middle East
Barak turns to Palestinians
11 Jan 00 |  Middle East
Analysis: The 'roadmap' to peace

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